Families in Bedford will pay more for school meals as new contract agreed

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There will still be income related free school meals

Bedford Borough Council has agreed to a new school meals contract – but meals will cost more.

The portfolio holder for families, education and children’s services, councillor Jane Walker, agreed in August to ensure the continuation of the school meals service for the 2023-24 academic year after a new contract was awarded.

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But the new contract means that the cohort of schools using the service will see an increase in prices.

A child carries a tray with food. Picture: Getty ImagesA child carries a tray with food. Picture: Getty Images
A child carries a tray with food. Picture: Getty Images

Last night’s Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Monday, September 4) asked for the background to this executive decision.

Chris Morris, the council’s chief education officer, told the committee that the council is one of a few remaining local authorities that still offers a buyback school meal service.

“The [former] food service contract ceased at the end of the last academic year, requiring us to re-tender or to cease the service,” he said.

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“When we first went out to tender we actually put a cap on the prices.

“We said ‘right, if you’re going to bid this is the maximum that we would expect you to charge’.

“[We were] trying to minimise the impact on families and keep costs relatively [low].

“Sadly we didn’t receive any bids for that process, and what we found when we went back out to the incumbent provider, Caterlink, to see what could be done.”

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He added that Caterlink explained that the cost of living, inflation and fuel rises would have to be taken into account with any new contract.

“They gave us a price that was sadly close to 20 per cent higher than what the current price was,” Morris said.

Food inflation is running at higher than national inflation, but it was still slightly higher than where we would have anticipated to be.

“We don’t have any other options on the table and we had 25 schools, 27 sites if you include those of multiple sites, who obviously had indicated they wanted to be part of this contract.

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“So the decision before you is effectively for the case to accept the offer that was on the table in order for us to continue to provide a school meals contract.

“We didn’t have enough time to go back out to the market,” he added.

He said that there will be an impact on families that pay for school meals, but they will “know what the cost is”.

“Those that are on income related free school meals will still get them for free,” he added.

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“But that’s not to negate the fact that the schools would have to pay for those increased costs from their pupil premium budget,” he said.

The council’s website shows that the cost per meal to schools or paying families will be £2.82 per meal for primary school meals and £2.92 for secondary school meals.